Douglas Benton wants his mornings to be easier. He wants his family to get out of bed, eat breakfast and get the day started.
Instead, he deals with a constant struggle between his three daughters and what they are going to wear to school.
Savana, 9, and twins Shaylee and Shaina, 6, attend Alcoa schools and Benton said his mornings have sometimes included “screaming matches” over pants.
Six months ago, the bickering in Benton’s family led him to take the issue public. He attended an Alcoa School Board meeting and addressed the board over the possibilities of mandatory school uniforms.
“It would be so easy to just give them a pair of pants and a shirt,” he said. “There would be no questions asked.”
Benton has not always been a pioneer for school uniforms. He is from Knox County and moved to California for work. Returning to Alcoa, he now owns a chain-free bicycle shop and a photography company with his wife.
Growing up in Knox County, Benton did not have to wear a school uniform. Even without the first-hand experience, he still believes that students can benefit more from having them than not.
When he spoke to the school board six months ago he used information he gathered from the Internet. The Advantage Press, one of the Web sites he used, is a compilation of information gathered by active and retired educators, including teachers and administrators from all grade levels. The site specializes in marketing information packets for educators to use in cases of bullying, motivation, physical education and discipline.
Benton said his information from Advantage Press mirrors directly The Department of Education’s stance on uniforms.
Benton said the information from both groups say that school uniforms would decrease violence and theft, prevent gang members from wearing gang colors, assist parents in buying inexpensive school clothes, instill discipline in students, help reduce peer pressure, allow students to concentrate more on school work and allow administrators to know who belongs in the school and who does not.
The department does guarantee the students’ right of expression as the law allows them to wear pieces of flair supporting a cause, politician or a group. The law also states that students could have religious expression as well.
Benton agrees safety and education is important, but he also said that uniforms would prepare students for the real world.
“School is the business of learning, not dressing,” he said. “When (students) reach the professional world, they will have to dress conservatively.”
Since the school board meeting, Benton said he has had positive response from his neighbors and friends.
“People keep telling me to get this started. I’m ready to go to Wal-Mart and get petitions signed,” he said.
The only people Benton believes would be against uniforms is the children.
“Of course kids don’t like it. Who cares? We pay the taxes (and) anyone is resistant to change,” he said.
The response from the board has been reassuring to Benton’s cause. Director of schools, Tom Shamblin said he remembers when Benton came and addressed the board.
“We don’t mind pushing for it,” he said.
However, Shamblin said he is going to need more than one concerned parent to consider school uniforms.
“We want to be sensitive to everyone who comes to us,” he said.
If the board listened and reacted to every issue brought to them, things would be “in a constant state of change,” he said.
Shamblin noted that his students are achieving, have good discipline and already have a dress code. That does not mean Shamblin and the board are against the idea; they just need more people saying they want it for their children.
The last time Shamblin remembers the issue coming up was 10 years ago with the 1990s fad of baggy pants. Shamblin was a teacher at the time and said he and his colleagues were enforcing tucked in shirts more than they were teaching.
“The current staff is fine with what we have,” he said.
“Benton is the only one who has spoken to me about school uniforms,” Shamblin said. “We’ve discussed it in our administration meetings and asked, ‘Is it time?’”
That answer was no.”